What Makes Pat Run

Congressman Sees A Battle of Ideas

Posted February 28, 2003 at 6:14pm

Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) plowed full steam ahead with his underdog primary challenge to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter last week, formally announcing his bid to take on the four-term incumbent.

“For me this is about ideas,” Toomey said Thursday, before embarking on a two-day announcement tour of the state. “It’s about two very different ideologies. I’m a conservative and Senator Specter is a liberal.”

In an interview with Roll Call, Toomey offered little detail about the mechanics of his nascent campaign. He has no full-time campaign manager and would not identify any pollsters or consultants he is working with.

But Toomey made it abundantly clear that the conservative-versus-liberal theme will serve as the backbone of his campaign.

The 41-year-old Congressman said he holds no personal animosity toward Specter. His primary bid, rather, is rooted in his ideological frustration with what he called the Senator’s “obstructionist” voting record at a time when Republicans have historic control of both Congress and the White House.

“We’ve got a Senator in Senator Specter who obstructs a conservative agenda,” Toomey said. “I want to see us as a party and for the sake of our country to seize this opportunity to advance a conservative agenda and to do that, I’m going to run for the Senate. I’m going to run against Senator Specter. I’m going to make this a campaign about ideas.”

Republicans used the obstructionist argument successfully last year during debate over creation of the new Department of Homeland Security, an issue that aided in the defeat Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.). The GOP has sustained the obstruction chorus in the current Senate debate over conservative judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.

Toomey is hoping to transfer the same argument to the primary.

He insisted that his voting record is more aligned with the majority of Pennsylvania Republicans than Specter’s, arguing the moderate Senator has alienated a large sector of the party’s core constituencies.

Specifically, he listed Specter’s votes on the procedure known as “partial-birth” abortion, Homeland Security and President Bush’s 2001 tax-cut package as being out of touch with the mainstream of Pennsylvania primary voters. Toomey, who supports a ban on all human cloning, also noted that Specter co-sponsored a bill that would allow human cloning for research purposes. Both Pennsylvania Republicans testified on opposite sides of the issue before the Senate Commerce Committee in January.

“When I talk to Republican activists and rank-and-file Republican committee people across Pennsylvania, they get it,” Toomey said. “They get this idea that this is our moment to advance an agenda that we believe in.”

Toomey has the backing of at least two national conservative economic leaders — failed Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes and tax-reform advocate Grover Norquist — and is counting on the support of the state’s anti-abortion network. The Club for Growth, which has angered the Republican establishment by aiding conservative GOP primary challengers against incumbents, is also helping Toomey.

Specter, meanwhile, has the unified support of Washington’s Republican leadership, including the Bush administration and GOP Senate leaders, all of whom tried to dissuade Toomey from running.

“Arlen can count on our full support because we need more leaders like him in the United States Senate,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.).

Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) said he counts on Specter’s “veteran leadership.”

Seeking to nullify the contributions of the Club for Growth, the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership has also pledged to help defend Specter, who had $5.9 million in the bank at the end of last year.

“[Ronald] Reagan’s 11th commandment of not attacking your own is being ignored by the Club and ultimately costing fellow Republicans millions of dollars that would be better utilized defeating Democrats,” said the group’s executive director, Sarah Chamberlain Resnick.

Toomey said Specter’s strong support in Washington is to be expected.

“I would say the White House and the Senate leadership and Senatorial committee, they have no choice but to support these incumbents,” he said. “The voters of Pennsylvania have a choice.”

While acknowledging that he is clearly the underdog, Toomey maintained he is in the race for the duration and disputed any assertion that he is using the opportunity to boost his profile for a future statewide election.

“I’m in this race to win this race, that’s it,” he said. “If I weren’t convinced I could win, I wouldn’t be in it. I would not go through what it takes to win a statewide race and spend the time away from my family.”

But to accomplish that, Toomey has to raise the needed resources and admittedly has to campaign full throttle, “from now right through the election.”

Last cycle, Toomey raised $1.6 million and showed $663,000 left in the bank at the end of the year. The Harvard-educated restaurateur and former investment banker does not plan on spending any of his personal money on the primary. He also declined to estimate how much he plans to raise in the multimillion-dollar contest.

He is employing a full-time finance director and has done some polling, although he declined to release results or name who conducted it.

Toomey is honoring a pledge to serve only three terms by leaving the House next year. He sees the Lehigh Valley seat as representative of the state and says his ability to win there is evidence he can win statewide. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the swing district, where Al Gore beat Bush 49 percent to 47 percent in the 2000 presidential election.

While abortion and cloning have so far emerged as two of Toomey’s most prominent issues against Specter, it was his tacit support of abortion rights that aided his narrow win in a six-way1998 GOP primary that included two social conservatives.

At the time of the campaign, Toomey supported a woman’s right to have an abortion, although he said the procedure should only be allowed in the first trimester and limited by waiting periods and notification requirements decided by each state government. However, Toomey said he has always personally opposed abortion and was never comfortable with his position during the 1998 campaign.